UTAH CHAMBER ARTISTS, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Dec. 8
Musicians often work toward adapting their performances to sound best in a particular concert hall. Concert halls are often varied in their unique acoustic signatures, and it can be a challenge to find the ideal sound in some halls. As a former music student at the University of Utah, this author has become well acquainted with the unique and challenging acoustic characteristics of Libby Gardner Concert Hall, which was the venue for Monday evening’s Utah Chamber Artists concert, conducted by artistic director Barlow Bradford. The ensemble, with its arsenal of 20 strings, 14 winds, four percussion and harp, managed to find a really beautiful and inspiring sound that seemed to harness the especially reverberant acoustics of the hall in a way that promoted resonance and energy. It was often beautiful and inspiring.
The opening five-movement work of the concert, Welcome All Wonders, found the Utah Chamber Artists revisiting a work they had commissioned more than 20 years ago. Penned by Utah-born composer J.A.C. Redford, the work brimmed with complex harmony and rhythm. The combined orchestral and vocal elements were harnessed to create a lush yet articulate texture. Redford has done all kinds of work in film and theater, including composition and orchestration projects with some of the most celebrated film musicians in the world. In this composition, Redford stepped away from film music conventions to compose a large scale concert work based on five sacred texts from a variety of authors, all celebrating the biblical story of the birth of Jesus. The music was intellectual and contemporary, while also drawing strong influence from the western classical music tradition. Congratulations to the musicians for giving such a spirited and glowing performance of this challenging score.
The concert’s final half featured shorter works by Bob Chilcott, arrangements of traditional holiday music by David Willcox and Bradford, and an audience sing along. Chilcott’s choral work Lullay, Lulla, Thou Little Tiny Child was simple, lush and hypnotically beautiful. Bradford’s new arrangement of Sing We Now of Christmas closed the concert, and the ensemble really stepped up by playing with energy and precision, a satisfying conclusion to an impressive concert filled with holiday spirit.